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New York Times on conditions in Texas detention centers, GEO's Karnes Correctional Center

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Nina Berstein at the New York Times continues her marvelous reporting on the immigrant detention system this week with a series of gut-wrenching and mind-boggling stories, including yesterday's story that chronicles a low-level New York drug-offender's experience in the Texas detention system ("How One Marijuana Cigarette May Lead to Deportation," March 30). 

The story follows Jerry Lemaine, a Hatian-New Yorker living as a permanent legal resident in the U.S. since age 3, who was convicted of a marijuana offense and paid a $100 fine.  The government subsequently put Mr. Lemaine in deportation proceedings where he was then shipped to series of Texas detention centers, including the GEO Group's South Texas Detention Center and Karnes County Correctional Center

The story includes some especially damning testimony about Karnes:

His lowest point, he said, came in the private Karnes County Correctional Center, which houses a mix of immigration detainees and federal prisoners. As he tells it, guards there let inmate gangs impose their own pecking order, and as the only black detainee in his dormitory, he seemed especially vulnerable. In the first days, the guards refused him utensils at mealtime, he said, leaving him alone eating stew and cereal with his hands. Later, half a dozen inmates beat him up in a racially motivated attack, he and his lawyers said.

Early on, after he wrote the medical staff that he was depressed, he was placed on a 10-day suicide watch in a filthy segregation unit where he did not see a psychiatrist for a week, he said.
“They just break you down so much,” Mr. Lemaine said. “They just forget about you. Basically, you fend for yourself.”

He was returned to isolation for his own protection after being beaten up, and chose to stay there, he said, locked in a tiny cell 23 hours a day, rather than go back to the same dorm.

I visited a detained immigrant, another long-time U.S. resident with a marijuana conviction, at Karnes several weeks ago who reported similar conditions.  He especially was concerned by a lack of security at the facility.  He also reported that video cameras set up for detainees to testify at their immigration hearings had been broken, pushing back court dates and contributing to the prolonged detention many immigrants face.

In a related ground-breaking Supreme Court ruling this week, the high court ruled that lawyers must tell immigrants such as Mr. Lemaine of the deportation risks of criminal convictions before reaching a plea deal ("Supreme Court says lawyers must tell immigrant clients of deportation risk," Washington Post, April 1). 

Check out more of important stories this week on the immigrant detention system:

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